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Rubens Masterpiece Portrait of a Man as the God Mars Returns to Belgium for First Time in 200 Years

Rubens Masterpiece Portrait of a Man as the God Mars Returns to Belgium for First Time in 200 Years

From the Prestigious Fisch Davidson Collection This Rare and Original Portrait will be offered in Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale in New York This May with an estimate of $20-30m

“Although the identity of the man that Rubens portrayed in this portrait is today unknown, his status is preserved forever by this painting: what could possibly be grander than to be painted with immense power and brilliance by the great Rubens, at the peak of his career, in the guise of the classical god of war? This work is further distinguished by its place in the prestigious Fisch Davidson collection, following a white-glove sale during Sotheby’s Masters Week in January.”
George Wachter, Sotheby’s Chairman and Co-Worldwide Head of Old Master Paintings

“In this rare and highly innovative painting, the sitter’s penetrating gaze and strongly defined features are those of a portrait, yet his pose and attire are those of a Classical hero: the god Mars. Here we see Rubens fuse his profound understanding of classical literature and art with Flemish directness and a deep bow to Titian and the Italian Renaissance, thereby fundamentally re-writing the language of 17th-century Flemish painting.”
Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s Head of Old Master Paintings in New York

“Rubens’s experience in Italy, both of classical antiquity and of Renaissance and Modern Art, continued to inform his work for the rest of his life. This is clearly evident in his Portrait of a man as the Roman god Mars, painted about eight to ten years after his return. Here, the energy of his early years back in Antwerp becomes more measured, but is no less intense: the mastery of his brush put to effect to emphasize the self-controlled but boundless power of his subject, and his own self-awareness nowhere more clearly expressed than in the penetrating gaze of the sitter, be he Man or God.”
George Gordon, Co-Chairman, Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings, Worldwide
  NEW YORK, 21 February 2023 – Today in Brussels, Sotheby’s unveils a masterpiece by Sir Peter Paul Rubens: Portrait of a Man as the God Mars, a painting that encapsulates the Baroque master’s unrivalled originality and power of expression, and a rare manifestation of one the artist’s deepest private passions - his complete fascination with the classical world. The work’s appearance in Brussels marks the first time in some 200 years that the painting has returned to the region in which it was executed, circa 1620. From Brussels, the arresting allegorical portrait will travel to London ahead of its sale in New York, where – in a nod to its intensity and innovation - it will be offered in Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale this May.

Rubens’ love of classical antiquity is well documented. Having travelled to Italy in 1600, when he was 23, he became quickly captivated by the myths, legends, architecture and art of the classical period, drawing incessantly from the sculptures, reliefs, cameos, and architecture that he found there, and – wherever he could – purchasing ancient artefacts that would inform his artistic practice for the rest of his career. In fact, so pronounced was his fascination with the classical world that, on his return to Antwerp, he would have his studio assistants read out classical texts to him while he was painting. In spite of all this, though, instances in Rubens’ portraiture when the sitter is portrayed in classical guise are exceedingly rare: in fact, this is the only single-figure portrait in Rubens’ oeuvre in which the subject is depicted in this way.

The portrait comes to sale from the illustrious Fisch Davidson Collection, from which ten Baroque masterpieces were sold at Sotheby’s New York earlier this year for a combined total of $49.6M. The jewel of this white-glove offering was another work by Rubens; The Head of Saint John the Baptist presented to Salome, which achieved $26.9 million - the third highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction. Portrait of a Man as the God Mars itself established a record price for a painting by Rubens ($8,252,500) when sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2000, and it has not been seen on the market since 2002. Since then, the painting has spent a number of years on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

  “Presenting Rubens’s Portrait of Mars as a highlight of our Modern Evening Auction – the first time the artist has ever been included in a sale of this kind – is a reflection not only of his enduring importance as an artist, but also of what a radical innovator Rubens was for his time. He was a painter like no other, in huge international demand, whose works had a profound impact and lasting influence on other artists throughout Europe. This magnificent portrait speaks to every kind of taste and sits perfectly in dialogue with works from later periods, where a new audience of collectors will not fail to recognize the enduring modernity of Rubens.”
Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s Head of Impressionist and Modern Art, Americas

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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Man as the God Mars
    Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Man as the God Mars
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Man as the God Mars.jpg (unframed)
    Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Man as the God Mars.jpg (unframed)
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus